If the world ever comes to a nuclear Armageddon, two things will likely survive: The intrepid and indestructible cockroach… and Android 2.3 Gingerbread.
According to the latest Android usage numbers on Google's developer console, Gingerbread, the version of the Android operating system released in December 2010, still remains on 20% of all Android devices that touch Google’s servers. The likely killer of Gingerbread—KitKat 4.4—is on only 1.8% of Android devices three months after its release.
Gingerbread just isn’t going away. We thought that it had entered its death throes 11 months ago when Gingerbread dipped below a 50% share of all Android devices for the first time in years. Since that time, Gingerbread has dropped from 44% of all devices to its current 20%. Regardless of what Google desires, Gingerbread still remains, and the version's decline is not as rapid as Android developers might have hoped.
Gingerbread takes up two API levels in the history of Android (Levels 9 and 10). Since Level 10 (Android 2.3.3) was released in February 2011, there have been nine more flavors of Android released, with the most current being Level 19 (KitKat 4.4). The only Android level with a higher amount of active devices is Level 16 Jelly Bean (Android 4.1) at 35.5%. Jelly Bean was announced at the Google I/O developer conference in June 2012.
That said, the Jelly Bean statistics are a bit deceiving. Instead of issuing newly-named Android versions over the last two years, Google just kept adding to Jelly Bean. Jelly Bean 4.2 (16.3% of active devices) was released in October 2012 and Jelly Bean 4.3 (8.9%) in July 2013. If you add all of the Jelly Beans together, you get a robust 60.3% of all Android devices, which is a little short of Gingerbread's peak in 2012—nearly 65% of all Android devices.
Will Gingerbread Ever Die?
Android Gingerbread persists for two reasons: Mobile manufacturers are still building cheap “new” Android devices that come with Gingerbread preinstalled, and some users with older Android devices aren't capable of upgrading to newer versions until they buy a new phone.
The latter reason will take care of itself in a matter of time. Eventually, old smartphones die, forcing their users to get newer models. The former reason will start to take effect this year.
The biggest change to the latest version of Android—KitKat 4.4—was that Google shrunk the memory profile of Android to fit on devices with as little as 512 MB of RAM. The reason that Gingerbread has persisted thus far was because manufacturers needed to ship cheap Android devices to emerging markets and Gingerbread was the only viable version of the operating system that could run on budget hardware. Google hopes manufacturers will stop shipping Gingerbread for budget devices now that KitKat (which has all of the new features instituted in the Jelly Bean updates) can handle the load of the operating system on inexpensive hardware.
This will take some time. When it comes to getting new versions of Android on manufacturers' phones, the process is still long and arduous and involves multiple parties including Google, the manufacturers’ engineering teams, the cellular carriers and chipset makers like Qualcomm. The three months that KitKat has been available is hardly a dent in this timeline, so the fruits of Google’s KitKat labors likely won’t start showing up in the numbers until the middle of 2014 at the earliest.